Page images
PDF
EPUB

up to Georgetown and back again. Birds are singing in the trees, the warmth is endurable here in this moist shade, with the fragrance and freshness. A hundred rods across is Georgetown. The river between is swelled and muddy from the late rains up country. So quiet here, yet full of vitality, all around in the far distance glimpses, as I sweep my eye, of hills, verdure-clad, and with plenteous trees ; right where I sit, locust, sassafras, spice, and many other trees, a few with huge parasitic vines ; just at hand the banks sloping to the river, wild with beautiful, free vegetation, superb weeds, better, in their natural growth and forms, than the best garden. Lots of luxuriant grape vines and trumpet flowers ; the river flowing far down in the distance.

Now the paying is to begin. The Major (paymaster) with his clerk seat themselves at a table—the rolls are before them—the money box is opened—there are packages of five, ten, twenty-five cent pieces. Here comes the first Company (B), some 82 men, all blacks.

Certes, we cannot find fault with the appearance of this crowd-negroes though they be. They are manly enough, bright enough, look as if they had the soldier-stuff in them, look hardy, patient, many of them real handsome young fellows. The paying, I say, has begun. The men are marched up in close proximity. The clerk calls off name after name, and each walks up,

receives his money, and passes along out of the way. It is a real study, both to see them come close, and to see them pass away, stand counting their cash-(nearly all of this company get ten dollars and three cents each). The clerk calls George Washington. That distinguished personage steps from the ranks, in the shape of a very black man, good sized and shaped, and aged about 30, with a military moustache ; he takes his “ ten three,” and goes off evidently well pleased. (There are about a dozen Washingtons in the company. Let us hope they will do honor to the name.) At the table, how quickly the Major handles the bills, counts without trouble, everything going on smoothly and quickly. The regiment numbers to-day about 1,000 men (including 20 officers, the only whites.) Now another company.

These get $5.36 each. The men look well. They, too, have great names ; besides the Washingtong aforesaid, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Calhoun, James Madison, Alfred Tennyson, John Brown, Benj. G. Tucker, Horace Greeley, etc. The men step off aside, count their money with a pleased, half-puzzled look. Occasionally, but not often, there are some thoroughly African physiognomies, very black in color, large, protruding lips, low forehead, etc. But I have to say that I do not see one utterly revolting face.

Then another company, each man of this getting $10.03 also. The pay proceeds very rapidly (the calculation, roll-signing, etc., having been arranged before hand). Then some trouble. One company, by the rigid rules of official computation, gets only 23 cents each man. The company (K) is indignant, and after two or three are paid, the refusal to take the paltry sum is universal, and the company marches off to quarters unpaid.

Another company (I) gets only 70 cents. The sullen, lowering, disappointed look is general. Half refuse it. in this case. Company G, in full dress, with brass scales on shoulders, looked, perhaps, as well as any of the companies—the men had an unusually alert look.

These, then, are the black troops,-or the beginning of them. Well, no one can see them, even under these circumstancestheir military career in its novitiate-without feeling well pleased with them.

As we entered the island, we saw scores at a little distance, bathing, washing their clothes, etc. The officers, as far as looks go, have a fine appearance, have good faces, and the air military. Altogether it is a significant show, and brings up some “abolition" thoughts. The scene, the porch of an old Virginia slave-owner's house, the Potomac rippling near, the Capitol just down three or four miles there, seen through the pleasant blue haze of this July day.

After a couple of hours I get tired, and go off for a ramble. I write these concluding lines on a rock, under the shade of a tree on the banks of the island. It is solitary here, the birds singing, the sluggish muddy-yellow waters pouring down from the late rains of the upper Potomac, the green heights on the south side of the river before me. The single cannon from a neighboring fort has just been fired, to signal high noon. I have walked all around Analostan, enjoying its luxuriant wildness, and stopped in this solitary spot. A water snake wriggles down the bank, disturbed, into the water. The bank near by is fringed with a dense growth of shrubbery, vines, etc.

WALT WHITMAN.

WHY AM I A NEW CHURCHMAN ?

To the question, Why am I a New Churchman ? my first and most general answer is, Because I believe in a system of religious doctrine which is to me the clear sign of a distinctly new phase of Christian faith and life-a system so broad and comprehensive, and so far in advance of the old creeds and standards, that it can be truthfully designated by no other name than that of New Church.

This doctrinal system I find in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, who bases it on the Sacred Scriptures. I make no concealment of my indebtedness to this man, or of my conviction that, under Divine Providence, he was the instrument appointed to revolutionize the religious thought of the age.

But I pay him no personal homage. I do not accept his teachings on account of any claim of personal authority which may be made in his behalf. Nor does he demand any such allegiance. On the contrary, he lays it down as a fundamental principle that truth can be received by man only in the free exercise of his rational faculties, or, what is the same thing, because it is seen to be intrinsically worthy of belief. As far as is possible to a writer, he keeps himself out of view. It is a fact not generally known, that for more than twenty years after he began to write on religious subjects, his name did not appear on the title pages of his works.

The reason for my acceptance of Swedenborg's teachings, is that they shed a flood of new light on all vital questions of religion and theology; they furnish an intelligible and rational solution of every vexed problem ; they make known the essential laws of spiritual life, and thus remove the ambiguities and inconsistencies which had gathered around Christian faith and worship. To state, as concisely as possible, the grounds on which this conclusion rests, will be the object of this paper.

All that is essential in religious faith is attained by man when he has, in the first place, a true idea of God, and, secondly, a correct understanding of the duties which he owes Him. This is a self-evident proposition. Unless these two conditions are fulfilled, there can be no mutual or reciprocal relationship between the human race and its Creator, no binding of the soul to a higher power, such as the word “religion,” by its etymology, implies. Moreover, as man has no innate or intuitive knowledge of God or of the relation which he rightly bears Him, and as God alone can give this knowledge, Divine revelation is necessary as a means of imparting it. This point need not here be argued. It is sufficient to say that Christianity without the Bible would be not only impossible, but well nigh inconceivable.

If the foregoing premises are admitted, it follows that the Church, as the repository of Divine truth among men, successfully discharges its functions, just in the degree in which it is the medium of correct instruction on these vital matters. Conversely, in proportion as it is a false teacher in this regard, it fails to accomplish its mission, and all power for usefulness departs from it. Derelict is it in still greater measure if it ceases to be a guide to pure and holy living. No extraordinary discernment is, indeed, needful in order to see that an evil life and false doctrines are the natural, if not the inevitable, concomitants of each other.

Judged by this twofold standard, the Christian Church, at the time when Swedenborg lived and wrote was, as he affirms, in the last throes of its dissolution. The truth, which it first received from the lips of Saviour and Apostles, was utterly perverted, and the moral and spiritual influence which it exerted had become altogether evil. Its decline had begun with the decrees of the Nicene Council, early in the fourth century, and had thenceforth continued, slowly but surely, for more than fourteen hundred years. The Reformation had, indeed, entered its protest against the ecclesiastical abuses and pretensions of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, but it did not dispel the mists by which the essential doctrines of Christianity had been obscured; it did not bring men permanently nearer to their Lord and God. By the mouth of Luther, it emphasized faith or belief as the means of salvation ; but the faith itself, already corrupted, remained practically unchanged, and the necessity of a good life according to the commandments was, to all intents and purposes, forgotten.

Swedenborg was born in 1688, and died in 1772. The son of a Lutheran Bishop of Sweden, a student at several universities, and an extensive traveler throughout all the principal countries of Europe, he had exceptional opportunities for testing the essential quality of contemporaneous Christianity. His writings contain abundant evidences of the manner in which he regarded it. But we are not dependent on his writings for a correct knowledge of its condition. History and literature alike bear witness to the prevailing corruption which came to its head in the early part of the eighteenth century. Extant and not yet discarded creeds tell the true story of the dominant belief. The idea of God was that of three Divine persons, each of them infinite, eternal, and omnipotent, who, in some mysterious manner, constitute one Deity. The first of these persons, or the Father, was supposed to be so incensed against the human race on account of Adam's disobedience, that they rested under His eternal condemnation. Divine justice required that they should live after death in a state of everlasting torment. By the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, or the second person in the Trinity, that justice was said to be satisfied, and the punishment removed from all who have faith in Him and His atoning sacrifice. Thus it was claimed that by faith alone they were justified, and that the heathen everywhere, and all who from any cause were not converted to the true belief, remained the hapless victims of the awful penalty. Paul's declarations respecting the works of the law, in contradistinction to faith, were considered as teaching that a humble and sincere life according to the ten commandments would avail nothing towards a man's salvation, unless he distinctly believed himself a participant in the redemption effected by the blood of Christ.

Connected with this conception of God, and inseparable from it, were the most baldly literal interpretations of Scripture. It was universally believed that the whole work of creation was accomplished in six days, of twenty-four hours each, by the arbitrary decree of the Almighty. No professing Christian doubted that in the days of Noah there was a flood which submerged the whole earth, and destroyed every living thing upon it except the little handful saved in the ark. From out the sacred pages the inference was also drawn that man's corruptible body of flesh is at some future day to be raised from the dead and resume its functions. The sounding of trumpets, the visible reappearance of the

« PreviousContinue »